At a meeting in Cairo on Thursday, Arab foreign ministers urged Syria to follow through on commitments made in the 1989 Taif Accord to withdraw its troops from neighbouring Lebanon, but did not specify how quickly Syria should do that.

Mauritanian Foreign Minister Fal Walad Blal "reiterated the support [of Arab ministers] to Syria, which is calling for dialogue and negotiation to solve all the problems, away from any pressure". 

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Kurbi, who took over the meeting's presidency from Blal, praised Syria for "the wisdom it displays in handling the situation in Lebanon". 

Despite the Arab foreign ministers' display of solidarity with Damascus, there was no attempt to question the principle of a troop withdrawal from Lebanon and the meeting prodded Syria to speed up the process. 

Serious situation

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa stressed the situation in Lebanon remained "serious".

Syria has said it would comply with the Taif Accord, but an Arab diplomat involved in efforts to resolve the crisis said the Syrians want a new arrangement including resuming peace talks with Israel as any part of a troop withdrawal from Lebanon.

The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Syria still wants to keep about 3000 troops of its current 14,000 troops in Lebanon "for the time being" - without giving a timetable - and to keep "early monitoring stations" in eastern Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt consider such terms unworkable, the diplomat added.

Russia's call

Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also pushed on Thursday for Syrian troops to pull out of Lebanon, adding weight to the mounting international pressure on Moscow's long-time ally.

There are currently 14,000 Syrian
troops stationed in Lebanon

While saying that the Syrian troops should leave Lebanon, Lavrov told BBC that the withdrawal must be conducted in such a way that it does not break the "fragile balance in Lebanon", according to remarks posted on Thursday on the Russian Foreign Ministry's website.

Lavrov's comments echoed a Russian Foreign Ministry statement earlier this week which urged Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in line with September's UN Security Council resolution.

Lavrov said while Russia, a permanent council member, abstained during the vote on the resolution, it must be implemented.

He also voiced hope that forthcoming elections will bring a new Lebanese government that would help stabilise the situation.

Saudi visit

Also on Thursday, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad went into talks with Saudi Crown Prince Abd Allah bin Abd al-Aziz after arriving in Riyadh on a visit expected to be dominated by the crisis in Lebanon. 

The meeting began shortly after al-Asad flew into the Saudi
capital, a Syrian diplomat said.